Zapping Mars

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Zapping Mars

The Perseverance Mars rover packs a laser gun. It’s not for defense against Martians. Instead, it’s a scientific instrument — a way to learn about Martian rocks without drilling into them. And the sound of the laser helps in that effort.

Perseverance zaps a target rock dozens of times in just a few seconds. That vaporizes some of the rock. The rover’s instruments analyze the composition of the vapor. That reveals the chemistry of the rock. Scientists use that information to infer something about how the rocks formed, and about the conditions on Mars when they formed.

A microphone on the rover records the sounds of the laser impact on the rocks. And the sound is different for different types of rocks. Scientists have used that difference to estimate the hardness of the rocks. And they combine the sounds with their analysis of the gas from the laser shots to measure the mineral composition of the rocks. So the eyes — and ears — of Perseverance are telling us a lot about the history of the rover’s location on Mars.

Look for Mars in the dawn sky. It looks like a fairly bright orange star, low in the east at first light. Tomorrow, the planet will stand close to the upper right of the Moon. Mars will climb a little higher into the morning sky as spring ends and we head into summer.

We’ll have more about Mars tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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